What Foods are High in Zinc?

Jan 06, 2022 Immune System

What Foods are High in Zinc?

Quick Health Scoop

  • Zinc supports many body functions, including immune function
  • Daily zinc requirements depend on age and life stage, but most adults need between 8-11mg per day
  • Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, dark meat poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, some dairy products (like cheese and yogurt), and fortified cereals
  • The body doesn’t absorb zinc from plant-based food sources as well as zinc from animal-based food sources

Did you know that, after iron, zinc is the second most common mineral found in the body?[1] As an essential nutrient that is important for the immune system, zinc tops the list of key nutrients that you need to stay healthy. 

The bad news: Your body can't make zinc on its own, so you must obtain this essential nutrient through food or supplements.[2] 

The good news: Zinc is considered a trace element, meaning you only need a small amount of it every day. Experts recommend that most children need daily zinc dosages between 2-11 mg, and most adults need daily zinc dosages between 8-11mg per day (11-13mg for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding).[3]

But why is zinc important? How much of this key nutrient do you need? And what foods are high in zinc? Read on to learn more about zinc and which dietary zinc foods should be on your plate.

Why is Zinc Important?

Before diving into specific, zinc-rich foods, it helps to understand why you need zinc in the first place. As an antioxidant, zinc helps guard the body’s cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, which may contribute to aging and health problems. Zinc is also well-known for its immune system support, which is why you see supplements including zinc lozenges at the pharmacy. What other health benefits does zinc provide? [1,2,3,5]

  • Supports healthy immune function
  • Helps the body’s senses of taste and smell function properly 
  • Supports healthy growth and development, especially during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood
  • Supports reproductive function
  • Plays a role in cell growth and cell division
  • Maintains healthy vision

What Foods are High in Zinc?

Because zinc is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods, most people can get all the zinc needed by eating a healthy diet. However, although fruits and vegetables do contain zinc, they’re not good sources for this key nutrient. Why? Because they also contain phytates (which inhibit zinc absorption), so the body can’t use plant-based zinc as well as zinc from animal foods.[6] Therefore, if you’re a vegan, vegetarian or follow a low-protein diet, know that these eating plans tend to be low in zinc.[4] 

So, what foods have zinc? Good dietary sources of zinc include: [2,4,7]

  • Shellfish (especially oysters, but also crab, lobster, mussels, shrimp)
  • Red meat (such as beef, pork, and lamb)
  • Poultry (dark meat contains more zinc than light meat)
  • Nuts (almonds, cashews, pine nuts, peanuts)
  • Seeds (chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
  • Legumes (chickpeas, kidney beans, soy beans, peas, lentils)
  • Dairy products (such as cheese and yogurt)
  • Fortified foods (such as fortified breakfast cereal) 

Here are a few specific examples of foods and their zinc content: [3,7]


Food

Serving Size

Zinc (in milligrams)

Oyster (cooked)

6 medium

27-50 mg

Beef chuck roast

3 oz.

8.7

Ground beef (90% lean)

3 oz.

5.4

Crab (Dungeness)

3 oz.

4.7

Fortified cereal (whole grain toasted oats)

1 cup

3.8

Turkey (dark meat)

3 oz.

3.0

Pork loin roast

3 oz. 

2.7

Soybeans (dry roasted)

½ cup

2.2

Roasted chicken (dark meat)

3 oz.

1.8

Cashews

1 oz.

1.6

Yogurt (plain, low-fat)

6 oz.

1.5

Sunflower seed kernels

1 oz.

1.5

Egg 

Grade A, Large

1.24

Milk

1 cup

1.1

Beans (baked)

½ cup

0.9

Of course, the best way to get adequate zinc intake is to eat a balanced, healthy diet. However, if you don’t get enough zinc in your diet, consider taking supplemental zinc tablets or a multivitamin. These dietary supplements may contain variations of this mineral, such as zinc gluconate, zinc sulfate, or zinc acetate. [4] 

As mentioned earlier, most people can get adequate zinc intake from dietary sources. However, genetic disorders, such as acrodermatitis enteropathica, cause some people to have low zinc levels. This inherited condition impairs the body in its ability to use and transport zinc effectively.[3] Other people have zinc deficiency because of certain medical conditions and other risk factors. 

The Bottom Line

As an essential nutrient, zinc plays an important role in many body functions, including antioxidant and immune system support. You can boost your zinc intake through dietary sources of zinc-rich foods and zinc supplementation. Zinc is found in a wide variety of both animal and plant foods, but the body doesn’t absorb zinc from plant-based food sources as well as zinc from animal-based food sources. Zinc-rich foods include oysters, beef, dark meat poultry, nuts, seeds, legumes, dairy products, and fortified cereals.

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your healthcare provider for more information.

References 

  1. Mt. Sinai. “Zinc.” 2021. Accessed on: December 2, 2021. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/zinc
  2. National Institutes of Health. “Zinc: Fact Sheet for Consumers.” March 22, 2021. Accessed on: December 2, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-Consumer/
  3. Oregon State University’s Linus Pauling Institute. “Zinc.” May 2019. Accessed on: December 2, 2021. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc
  4. MEDLINE Plus. “Zinc in Diet.” March 11, 2021. Accessed on: December 3, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002416.htm
  5. Mayo Clinic. “Zinc.” November 17, 2020. Accessed on: December 3, 2021 https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-zinc/art-20366112
  6. The British Journal of Nutrition. “Bioavailability of minerals in legumes.” December 2002. Accessed on: December 3, 2021. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12498628/
  7. U.S. Department of Agriculture. “Food Data Central.” 2021. Accessed on: December 3, 2021.  https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/?component=1095

Authors

Sandra Zagorin, MS, RD

Science and Health Educator

As a member of the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Sandra educates healthcare professionals and consumers on nutrition, supplements, and related health concerns. Prior to joining Pharmavite, Sandra worked as a clinical dietitian at University of Chicago Medicine in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Sandra received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, with minors in Spanish and Chemistry from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ. She earned her Master of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition from RUSH University in Chicago, IL. As part of her Master’s program, Sandra performed research on physical activity participation and correlates in urban Hispanic women.

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Lisa Beach

NatureMade Contributor

Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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